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HUMBLENESS AND EXALTATION

Luke 14:1-14:14
Key Verse: 14:11

Thank God for Jesus’ love and sorrow for his people. His death on the cross, his arms stretched by the nails in both his hands, shows how much he loves and embraces us, bearing all our iniquities. We need to hear his voice, “I love you”, by faith, especially at each critical time. Otherwise, we cannot stay under his wings, and thus become vulnerable to the evil one. We pray that in this love of God, we may be gathered under his wings and serve others with a sense of mission, that they also may be gathered under the loving refuge of his wings in this unsafe, dry and thirsty world. Today’s passage is about Jesus’ healing a suffering man on a Sabbath, his parable of how to sit at a feast and his teaching about genuine invitation. We will study this passage with the title "humbleness and exaltation".

First, the meaning of Jesus’ healing on a Sabbath (1-6). Look at verse 1. “One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.” Can you eat when you are being carefully watched? What an awkward atmosphere there must have been in the house of this prominent Pharisee where Jesus had been invited to eat! There in front of him was a man suffering from dropsy, the swelling of his body due to the abnormal accumulation of fluid. How could this man be there? Probably, since at that time this kind of dinner was not private but open for public viewing (Lk 7:37), he could have come in even though not formally invited. Or perhaps he was forcibly brought in by the Pharisees and experts in the law as as part of a trap to catch Jesus. Anyway, there he was, in front of Jesus.

What did Jesus do at this situation? Look at verse 3. “Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’” Here we see that some prominent people were there, and they together were watching Jesus to see whether Jesus would heal the man on the Sabbath so as to find something to accuse Jesus. Jesus knew this and asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” We remember that in chapter 13 Jesus healed a crippled woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath, making the synagogue ruler indignant. On another Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue where there was a man whose right hand was shriveled. Jesus was in the same situation, at the watchful eyes of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. At that time Jesus had the man with the shriveled hand stand in front of everyone, and then said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?’” (Lk 6:9) So this question regarding the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath is written twice in Luke’s gospel.

Then, let’s think about the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” The Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, begins with these words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex 20:2; Dt 5:6). God gave them the Ten Commandments, not to restrict and bind them, but so that they might live as free people of God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”, and in Matthew 22:40, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” So according to Jesus the summary of the Law is to love God and love our neighbour. And Paul said in Romans 13:9, “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.” So the spirit of the law is love, loving our neighbour as the outcome of loving God. St. Augustine said, “Love God and do whatever you please.” But the problem of the Pharisees and experts in the law was that they had no love for God, so obviously, no love for their neighbours. Jesus once said to the Jews, “I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts” (Jn 5:41). Without the love of God, whatever they did was not lawful in God’s sight, even if they kept the written law perfectly in a literal sense. They were caught in legalism and remained as legalists. Being lawful is loving God and loving our neighbour. This is a truly free life in God.

Apostle Paul also said in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” and in 13, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” So a truly free life is to obey God’s law in love. Paul expressed the concept of slavery and freedom in this way in Romans 6, “…you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness…When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Ro 6:16, 20-22). To obey God’s law in love is to be slaves to God--that is the life of being lawful, and true freedom.

At the question of Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” they remained silent. They probably knew all this in their deep hearts, but they either did not want to acknowledge it or were not clear about this. At their silence Jesus wanted to clearly show them what is lawful on the Sabbath. So taking hold of the man, Jesus healed him and sent him away. Perhaps, they were still not convinced. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” No parent, when their son or daughter falls into a well on the Sabbath would say, “O my child, you should suffer there one more day, because unfortunately today is the Sabbath. I will pull you out tomorrow. I am really sorry about this.” Obviously, any parent would pull their child up immediately. At this second question, they had nothing to say. This time, they surely knew the answer, and yet had nothing to say. Their silence surely implied “yes.” May we live as truly free people of God, being lawful and not confined in legalism or deceived by liberalism.

Second, the impact of humbleness (7-11). Look at verse 7. “When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable.” This, then, is the second lecture from Jesus at this dinner. To Jesus, being carefully watched meant that he had their full attention and was the central figure. So he took this chance to speak to them at length. Their invitation of Jesus turned out, unwittingly, to be a kind of conference, with Jesus as the main guest speaker giving three consecutive lectures.

Usually, in a parable, the listeners are not directly figured in the story. But in this parable the hearers are the second persons. Look at verses 8 and 9. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.” According to rabbinic sources, in the Jewish community, the table is set a U-shape. The middle of the centre table is the most honourable seat, followed by the left and the right, then the left table, left to right, and finally the right table. Jesus’ advice is not to sit at the place of honour ignorantly. Otherwise, you will hear from the host what you do not want to hear: “Give this man your seat,” and will be embarrassed and humiliated. Jesus continues, “But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests.” What a nice thing to hear, “Friend, move up to a better place”! This story seems too simple to convey any deep meaning. It seems better suited for children’s education. Yes, it is a simple and interesting story. Yet, as always, Jesus’ simplicity in his teaching brings profoundness for all people of all generations.

What Jesus draws from this parable is this: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” These words are so significant that the exact same words are repeated again in Luke 18:14 related to the story of a Pharisee, who prayed to God as a righteous man, and a tax collector who prayed as a sinner: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There are ample examples of this in the Bible. We can begin with the case of Satan. Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star (Lucifer), son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth…You said in your heart, ‘I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’” Satan fell from heaven and was cast down to the earth because he wanted to exalt himself to the point of making himself like God. Satan who appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent tempted her, saying, “When you eat of it, you will be like God” (Ge 3:5). At this temptation, Eve’s desire to exalt herself arose unto bold disobedience of God’s absolute command. Adam listened to her and thus the fall of man took place. In the book of Esther, there is a man named Haman. The king of Persia and Media, Xerxes, elevated him and gave him a seat of honour higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honour to Haman. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honour. Then Haman became enraged and devised a plan to destroy all the Jews on a certain day. And he had a gallows built, 23 meters high, to have Mordecai hanged on it. But the tables were turned and Haman was destroyed. It happened this way: Mordecai had protected the king’s life by discovering and exposing the secret plans for the king's assassination. What he did was so crucial for the king and the Empire. He was not rewarded at all at that time, however, and the incident was just recorded in the book of the annals. Despite this, Mordecai was not at all sorry. He was faithful to what he had to do. Then at the right time his deed was disclosed, and Haman’s evil scheme as well. Mordecai was exalted to the position of Haman and given the king’s signet ring, which had been reclaimed from Haman and presented to him (Esther 7:10; 8:2), while Haman was hanged on the gallows he had built. And in that position he fought for the preservation of the Jews, and he was greatly honoured by the Jews. Absalom was the prince son of King David. According to 2 Samuel 14:25, “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels (about 2.3 kilograms) by the royal standard.” But he was not satisfied with the prince position. He sought to be the king. He stole the hearts of the men of Israel (15:6) and thus rebelled in a national coup d’état against his father. However, in the end he was chased by David’ army and killed when his hair got caught in a tree while the mule he was riding kept on going (18:9). His life thus ended in tragedy, to his father’s great sorrow.

Moses received wilderness training, humbleness training, from God for 40 years. Numbers 12:3 says, “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)” He was used by God for the great work of bringing the Israelites out of the bondage of Pharaoh king of Egypt and leading them right up to the entrance of the Promised Land. It was his dream to enter the promised land along with the people of God. But God did not allow him to do so. At this, he did not feel sorry for himself. Rather, he prayed that God might appoint a shepherd for them who otherwise would be sheep without a shepherd. Apostle Paul, before meeting Christ, was called Saul, the name of the first king of Israel. But after meeting Christ, he was known as Paul, his Latin name, meaning, “small” or “humble”, in order to serve the Gentiles. Learning of Jesus, he became a truly humble servant of God until he could describe the humility and exaltation of Jesus like this: Jesus is in very nature God. But he became a man, taking the very nature of a servant. He humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6-11).

Even in this passage Jesus’ humbleness is well shown. He lowered himself and healed the man suffering from dropsy at the watchful eyes of the prominent people, speaking the truth to the people. Indeed he loved God and loved his neighbour, even though it meant risking his life.

Henry Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and was a professor at Harvard University. But, at the peak of his popularity, he gave up his professorship and came to Toronto to share his life with mentally handicapped people at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Richmond Hill. It was to go deeper in spirituality and learn of Jesus practically. He particularly served one man Adam, who even could not speak, with his whole being for 10 years. They died in the same year, Adam at the age of 34, and Nouwen at 64. I newly learn that serving one soul wholeheartedly in the name of Jesus is a good way to learn of Jesus, especially his humbleness.

The Bible clearly says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Jas 4:6; 1 Pe 5:5; Prov 3:34). “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honour” (Pro 29:23)“Pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18a); “humility comes before honour” (Prov 15:33). It is written in the Song of Mary in Luke’s gospel “…he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” (1:51-52). So Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 5:5-6, “Young men…Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” The humble will be exalted at God’s time, and in the humble heart is the kingdom of God. May we grow in the humbleness of our Lord Jesus and really become his humble people so that we can see God’s exaltation at his time for his glory.

Third, genuine invitation (12-14). Look at verses 12-14. “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” The point of these words is that our invitation should be genuine, done in the name of Jesus. Jesus wants us to expect God’s reward and God’s repayment, not people’s. Jesus mentioned the resurrection of the righteous. That is the time of true reimbursement from God. We pray that God may purify our hearts from worldly benefit-seeking and help us to seek his reward and repayment at the resurrection of the righteous.

May we be aware of God in our lives so that we may be really lawful, humble and genuine in life and service. Especially, may God mould each one of us to be a truly humble person, in the hope of his exaltation for his glory.

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